Published on 12-11-2008
As we have recently had the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US, we have the opportunity to be thankful for friends, family, and much more. And for many of us we are thankful for the gift of health - or at least the gift of being alive! But what does it mean to be "healthy"? Is it simply the absence of serious illness or is there much more to the concept of being "well"? And what is your role in fostering this wellness?
An aspect of Chinese Medicine which does not get the coverage it should is its role in the prevention of disease. As with many acupuncturists, I find the majority of people come in for treatment after they have tried many western medicine options - and often after other alternatives as well. With acupuncture and its uses, being one of the more poorly understood medical systems amongst the general public and the western medical community, this is not surprising. What it means, however, is that your conditions have had more time to develop and, often, worsen.
While Chinese Medicine can be used to treat nearly any condition at any stage, it excels in many ways at treating conditions before they begin to develop. Some of the reasons acupuncture can be useful in complex conditions with varying symptoms like Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia, and various neurological conditions is that it doesn't treat the "condition" per se, but the "pattern" that is behind its development. The patterns in Chinese Medicine look at your entire range of signs and symptoms even those that seem unrelated to your main complaint. Through treating a pattern instead of a condition your main complaint will improve along with all of the issues surrounding and preceding it.
Due to these diagnostic tools, Chinese Medicine can treat conditions before they arise - before the point that you would be able to provide a western diagnosis. This is often illustrated to patients when we work backwards through their medical history and can begin to see the formation of their current issues. In fact, the healing process of many conditions often goes through stages which are similar to the development of their current condition.
Often times as I am discussing acupuncture with other people they will say things like "I'd love to try it, but there is nothing wrong with me", or more simply, "I'm fine". What they usually mean is that they don't have a "condition". Everyone realizes that they have some issues, pains that come and go, sleep that is better or worse at times, moods that go up and down -- nothing serious, just relatively minor issues.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, however, those minor issues are plenty to work with and often when people come in just for "stress" or "relaxation" they find that other issues change - some they were not really aware of, or didn't really think too much about. Some people think it's normal to have a headache once a week, or not sleep well a couple nights a week, or to have bad menstrual cramps every month, etc. These minor issues, however, speak to our own personal view of what it means to be "well".
In Chinese history there are stories where the village doctor was only paid when all of the villagers were "well". So if people were sick the doctor would not be paid until they were better. If the villagers were continually sick then the doctor would most likely be out of a job at some point! What a different viewpoint to look at the role of medicine in our lives and our use for it on our path to wellness.
From a wellness point of view there are always avenues of improvement - some in ways that people don't often think about. When you wake up do you need coffee to get going or do you feel well and rested, is your energy stable throughout the day, are your moods appropriate and balanced, when you eat do you enjoy it and feel well afterwards or do you have a variety of symptoms like heartburn, bloating, etc. They are minor issues now and may continue to be so for quite some time. But all of these and more are treatable at this point and treatment will stop these imbalances before they become deeper patterns in your body and ultimately conditions that can be given a western diagnosis.
Of course, these arguments also hold true for living well now with our emotions, diets, lifestyles - all aspects of our lives and doing what we can to improve those. We do not know what the future holds for us, so it is better to do what we can now when times are relatively easy and things are going well for us than when we are sick and will have a hard time to do what is necessary to help us heal. Acupuncture is but one part of this equation, but its use in relatively good times can greatly increase the chances that your wellness continues and that your experience of what it means to be well becomes more of an upward moving target than simply the absence of illness. Now, then, is the time to work on whatever issues you have and work towards higher states of wellness.
New Year's Resolutions Anyone?!
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